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ARSCLIST  June 2009

ARSCLIST June 2009

Subject:

I Heard the Voice of a Chipmunk Say

From:

Dave Lewis <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 16 Jun 2009 13:53:17 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (405 lines)

What follows will be rather long and deals with an early blues singer;
if no interest, move on... Also apologies for cross posting.

 

I have been listening to the 1993 Documents release "Alabama: Black
Country Dance Bands 1924-1949" (DOCD-5166). Most of the artists included
only have a tangential relationship to Alabama; Johnny "Daddy Stovepipe"
Watson was born there, but was an itinerant musician mainly based in
Chicago; his wife, "Mississippi Sarah" Watson had no known connection to
Alabama at all. Bogus Ben Covington was born there, but worked mainly in
Chicago and Mississippi; the Mobile Strugglers were based in Mobile but
mainly played in New Orleans. What follows is concerned with Bogus Ben;
according to Big Joe Williams, he earned the sobriquet "Bogus Ben" from
his habit of impersonating a blind person while singing on street
corners, even though he wasn't really blind. He is said to have
resettled in Pennsylvania, and died there around 1935.

 

Bogus Ben recorded "Adam and Eve and the Garden" and "I Heard the Voice
of a Pork Chop" for Paramount (Pm 12693) ca. September 1928, and
followed that session with "Boodle-De-Bum Blues" and "It's a Fight Like
That" (actually "It's Tight Like That") for Brunswick on October 9, 1929
(Br 7121). An unissued session by a "Memphis Ben" for Vocalion listed
for November 23, 1929 has been accredited to Bogus Ben based on the
selections recorded ("Hot Dog" and "Adam and Eve and the Garden"). One
further session for Paramount, recorded in Grafton, Wisconsin in January
1932 and credited to Ben Curry is also awarded to Bogus Ben based on
aural similarity and selection. Of the six titles on this date, two
("Hot Dog" and "The Laffing Rag") were issued on Pm 13122, a disc that
has never surfaced.

 

One consistent aspect of all these sides is that the instrumentation is
for either banjo or mandolin and a harmonica; Documents' annotator
further ascribes the harmonica in the Grafton session to King Solomon
Hill, and it is clear that the lead vocalist sings over the harmonica
rather than alternating with it. The annotator also suggests that "Ben
Curry" -- rather than "Ben Covington" -- was the true name of Bogus Ben.
The Documents series was coordinated by Austrian collector Johnny Parth
with the intention of making all pre-war blues sides available, and I am
very grateful for that; what he did was to canvass selections from
various private collectors.

 

However, some collectors did not consider record speeds when they
transferred their selections, and in certain cases the speeds of records
can be all over the map. There was one Bogus Ben track, the Grafton
version of "Boodle De Bum Bum" (L-1232-2, the same basic piece as
"Boodle-De-Dum Blues" on Brunswick) that was driving me crazy, as the
voice was all up in chipmunk range and it was obviously pitched way too
fast. So I slowed it down to match the pitch of the Brunswick version,
and that made the 3:10 Grafton track balloon from a timing of 3:10 to an
impractical 4:00. So gradually I worked it up through a number of
pitches to a timing that just takes the voice out of the chipmunk range,
a long but at least plausible 3:29 or so, with the understanding that it
still might be running a bit fast. Unfortunately, I could not depend on
the mandolin to guide me, as according to Larry Nager, American country
mandolinists did not observe a standard of tunings in those days as
their Italian brethren did.

 

Based on what I hear in the slightly slowed down version, I have to
conclude that the singer on the Grafton "Boodle De Bum Bum" is NOT Bogus
Ben. It sounds a little like a very famous blues singer from Mississippi
who is not known to have recorded between 1930 and 1934 -- you'll
surmise who -- or someone imitating that singer, a similarity that
becomes increasingly more dramatic the more you lower the pitch. While
Bogus Ben is clearly playing the mandolin, the vocalist shows an inexact
grasp of the text of the piece vis a vis the Brunswick version and
pronounces the hook "Boodie Bum Bum" rather than "Boodley Bum Bum." He
also introduces whole verses of lyrics not in the Brunswick version, and
these seem a bit off the cuff, whereas the Brunswick version maintains a
logical progression of story. However -- and I have no idea who is
responsible for this -- there seems to be censorship of source in the
verse that begins "Now a black cat told a white cat..." The response of
the white cat to the black cat appears neatly razored out of the track,
something I would never have noticed had I continued to listen to the
version at the accelerated speed.

 

Please refer to the transcription of the texts below, and to the tracks
themselves at the following links:

Brunswick "Boodle-De-Dum Blues" http://www.box.net/shared/c95repnlrj 

Paramount "Boodle De Bum Bum" http://www.box.net/shared/0h4om4nbcb  

 

At the opening of the Paramount track I added the second verse at the
pitch on the Documents issue, just to illustrate what that sounded like.

 

I would really appreciate some feedback on these results. My feeling is
that although Bogus Ben Covington is present on the Grafton tracks, "Ben
Curry" might not have been the "same person" as Covington as suggested
in Dixon and Godrich, or at least not the person Paramount was trying to
credit for this session. This is still complicated, as the vocal on the
flip, "You Rascal You" does sound like it could be Covington -- as all
of the sides from this session are sped up, one would have to locate a
way to pitch them all correctly to really know. And I think the notion
that "Ben Curry" is the true name of Ben Covington should be
re-addressed; while the SSDI does not list a Ben Curry within this time
frame, there is an entry for Ben Covington, born in 1899 and died in
Knoxville Tennessee; not in 1935 but 1980. It might not be Bogus Ben,
but it certainly adds enough reasonable doubt in this matter to invite
more questions.

 

TRANSCRIPTIONS

 

Bogus Ben Covington 

Boodle-de-dum Blues (C-4630) 

Br 7121

 

I was down in the alley

Trying to sell my coal today

I was down in the alley

Trying to sell my coal today

And a woman run out and hollar

Gehhh-t my mule away

She wanted to Boodely Bum Bum

She hollahed Boodely Bum Bum

Ahhh Boodley Bum

Boodley Bum

Boodley Bum Bum

 

I went with Ice Man Jackson

He sold his ice and coal

I went with Ice Man Jackson

He sold his ice and coal

But he blowed in all his money

Buyyyy-in sweet jelly roll

He wanted to Boodley Bum Bum

Awwww Boodley Bum Bum

Jes had to Boodley Bum

Boodley Bum

Boodley Bum Bum

 

We stopped on 18 and Federal

Just two blocks west of State

Stopped on 18 and Federal

Just two blocks west of State

And when he got up under that vi-dockt

Well, he would not wait

He had to Boodley Bum Bum

Awwww Boodley Bum Bum

Ahhhh Boo

Dloo

Boodley Bum Bum

 

She said money don't excite me

And that we all know well

She said money don't excite me

And that we all know well

But Jackson showed her fifty dollahs

And she almost fell

She wanted to Boodley Bum Bum

Jes had to Boodley Bum Bum

Awwww Boodley Bum

Boodley Bum

Boodley Bum Bum

 

She had wind like a Greyhound

And she sho could run

She had wind like a Greyhound

And she sho could run

And Jackson got on like a reindeer

Annnnd he runned her some

Ahhhh Boodley Bum Bum

Ohhhh Boodley Bum Bum

It was a Boodley Bum

Boodley Bum 

Boodley Bum Bum

 

Ben Curry Boodle De Bum Bum 

(L-1252-2) Pm 13118

 

I was down in alley mama

Tryin to sell my coal today

I was down in alley mama

Tryin to sell my coal today

An a woman run out an hollared

Ge -hhht my mule away

See how dey Boodie Bum Bum

Heyy Boodie Bum Bum

See what a Boodie

A Boodie

A Boodie Bum Bum

 

Well I rode wit Ice Man Jackson

He throwed his ice in cold

And I rode wit Ice Man Jackson

He throw his ice in cold

And Jackson rolled in all his money

Iiiiice -- he let it roll

He got it Boodie Bum Bum

Heyy Boodie Bum buh -

They called it Boodie

Boodie

Boodie Bum Bum

 

She said money don't excite her

And that we all know well

She said money don't excite her

And that we all know wellll

And then we showed her fifty dollars 

Annnnd she almost fell

She hollared Boodie Bum Ba

C'mon and Boodie Bum Ba

C'mon and Boodie

Boodie

Boodie Bum Ba

 

Well that l'il ol piggy wiggy

That's who dat [unint.] sow

Well that l'il ol piggy wiggy

That's who dat [unint. - diff word] sow

Mama turn over on your side

I want my milk right now

He wanna Boodie Bum Ba

Here go da Boodie Bum Ba

He wanna Boodie

A Boodie

A Boodie Bum Ba

 

Now a black cat told a white cat

Less go cross town and clown

Yeah the black cat told the white cat

Less go cross town and clown

And the white cat told the black cat

[missing line?]

He wanted Boodie Bum Bum

They called it Boodie Bum Bum

He wanted Boodie

Boodie

A Boodie Bum Bum

 

And the tom cat told the kitty

Hey you come in out night

Mmmmmmmm mmmmm

You comin out to - nigggght

And the kitty told the tom cat

You might want to fight

You wanna Boodie Bum Bop

There go da Boodie Bum Ba

You go da Doodie

Doodie 

Doodie Bum Ba

 

David N. "Uncle Dave" Lewis
Assistant Editor, Classical
Ann Arbor, MI  

 

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